EDITOR’S NOTE: First of a two-part series on the cost of sports in public schools
Now you know: $5.38 million.
That’s how much public schools in Luzerne County spent for sports in grades seven through 12 in 2012-13. And yes, it’s a lot of money, but before blood boils, a piece of perspective. Budgets for Luzerne County’s 11 districts that year totaled $516 million. Sports comprised 1 percent of that.
Want to know more? Which district spent the least of its budget on sports? Wyoming Area, 0.6 percent. Most? Wyoming Valley West, 1.88 percent.
Still more? Most expensive sport: Boys varsity football, $712,426 spent by 11 districts, followed by boys varsity basketball, $321,868, and girls varsity basketball, $283,002. Cheapest sport? Seventh grade indoor track and field, $705 spent county-wide.
Most popular sport: Boys varsity football, 527 participants, but it’s no blowout. Girl’s varsity track and field drew 511.
In fact, if you add up participation at all levels of each sport, it’s outdoor track and field that blows every other competition away: 1,752 participants. Next closest is basketball, at 1,590. Football comes in a distant third at 1,188.
Which district spent the most on travel? Wilkes-Barre Area, $230,687. Most on uniforms? Hazleton Area, $5,460. Newest high school sport? Three girls sports added in 2013: two lacrosse programs and one competitive spirit.
Tell us what you want to know and we can probably suss out a useful answer, given enough time. In fact, anyone with a computer and some spreadsheet acumen could.
It never was that way before. For decades, it felt like sports spending and participation figures were crumpled in some basement closet next to the locker room, or buried in arcane documents strewn among district, state and PIAA offices, or encrypted in reams of budget documents you could only get if you knew what to ask for, and only interpret with an accountant and a lawyer.
But a new state law, Act 82 of 2012, changed all that. Now you can go online and, voila! Your district’s sports minutiae is at your fingertips. After Wednesday, you should be able to rummage through any Pennsylvania school district sports minutiae.
Act 82 included multiple amendments to the state school code, including what is most often referred to as the athletic disclosure act, requiring districts to compile and publicize detailed data on sports participation, spending, number of competitions and history of the sport (inception and cancellations). And it all comes in a standardized form intended to make comparisons across districts as easy as cut and paste.
The first reports, for 2012-13, had to be filed by Oct. 15. The state plans to post it all online Wednesday. District’s are also required to post them on their own websites, but few could be found locally until The Times Leader started requesting copies in November. There is no penalty for failure to post a report on the district website.
Issue of gender
The data is broken down by gender. The intent is to help taxpayers, parents, students and districts themselves gauge how well districts are complying with the 1972 federal law known as Title IX, which requires gender equity in colleges and schools that receive federal money.
Title IX covers more than just sports, but it is credited most often with transforming the landscape for female athletes.
• In an interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer after the law was signed, the sponsor of the bill, now-retired State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Verango County, recounted playing basketball in bloomers in school, half-court only. Girls were considered too frail to run from basket to basket. Go ahead, try to limit girls to half court now.
• According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, the number of high school girls playing competitive sports grew from fewer than 300,000 pre Title IX to 2.78 million in 2001.
So, is the gender inequity war over?
“The gap between male and female athletes seems to be widening,” Women’s Law Project senior staff attorney Sue Frietsche said. “The absolute number of athletes is increasing, so there are more sports in general, but the gap appears to be getting wider.”
“And that’s a shame, because sports really provide a whole range of benefits for young women and men,” Frietsche added. “There are studies that correlate participation in sports with lower rates of smoking, addictions, unwanted teen pregnancies, depression and it goes on forever. Sports correlates with higher graduation rates, better grades and, of course, more scholarship opportunities in colleges.”
There is no historical data to compare to these first-ever athletic disclosure reports.
Countywide, districts spent $1.16 million more on boys sports than girls sports, but compliance is not measured in dollars. It’s measured primarily in opportunities to participate in sports.
Most local districts seem to fare well in those numbers, though participation data was suspect in some districts, with obvious omissions in some cases, and results that suggested duplication in others. Athletic directors and business managers interviewed pointed to flaws in the reporting form that do not accommodate real world dynamics of sports, particularly in lower grades.
Frietsche had a simpler, alternative explanation for data problems: Getting 500 districts to all do the number crunching the same way on the first try. “Any instructions for filing out a form for the first time are probably not going to be as extensive as people would like.”
Old ideas die hard
But even if the numbers suggest gender equity in sports, Title IX watchdogs warn vigilance must be constant, in part because old attitudes favoring boys sports keep bubbling up. As recently as 2009, Hazleton Area School Board found itself embroiled in a debate about girls middle school basketball, which was being played in fall instead of winter.
Coaches of girls sports argued that this left middle school girls with no winter sport. During a testy board debate in January 2009, board member Jack Shema argued nothing prevents the girls from playing boys sports. “Let them try out for football.”
“They are not asking to play boys sports,” board member Elaine Curry shot back. “They are asking for a schedule that has equity.”
That debate prompted the district to bring in Peggy Pennepacker, widely regarded as a leading Title IX expert, to conduct a compliance audit. The district also revamped the middle school basketball program to a winter program — no small fete, Athletic Director Fred Barletta pointed out, considering other schools had to be found that would join in the switch.
The large district had one advantage: each elementary/middle school has its own girls basketball team, so they practically formed a league by themselves.
The district got three more schools — Berwick, MMI and Holy Family — to join, creating the “Anthracite League,” a name deliberately chosen as homage to the long defunct Anthracite League of varsity sports.
Superintendent Francis Antonelli stressed Hazleton Area has never been cited for a Title IX compliance violation, and he and Barletta argue the decision to invite an independent audit, and to change the basketball schedule, are proof the district is proactive on equity issues.
That said, Barletta concedes the district did not follow up on some suggestions in Pennepacker’s final report, though he said it’s often a question of money. One example: A recommended field house near a new track.
“Estimates to build that are more than $2 million,” Barletta said. “No one’s been in a hurry to do that.”
Pennepacker also warned against assuming that lack of discrimination in new programs means equity is at hand. “Women’s sports are disadvantaged by and must overcome a lack of tradition and must also compete with men’s and boy’s programs that have existed longer for spectators, supporters and in many cases, school resources,” she wrote in the report.
Frietsche agreed, and said that the new reports are big step in fighting hidden biases.
“Honestly, this is sometimes characterized as a male versus female issue, but our strongest supporters often are fathers of female athletes who are just furious,” Frietsche said. “They don’t accept that there daughters should be getting less support and less publicity and less of an experience than anyone else.”
MONDAY: Reporting booster club contributions, and why football is not the most expensive sport